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August 30, 2008

Costco knows what you bought

On his Ominvore's Ottawa blog, Ron Eade relates this interesting story about a phone call from Costco about the Maple Leaf Foods recall:
Received an alarming computer-generated voice mail message at my house yesterday, from Costco advising me that on such-and-such a date I purchased sliced pastrami that is being recalled by Maple Leaf Foods due to the listeriosis scare. I bought it at least a month ago!

Of course, by now I can assure you the meat is l-o-n-g gone.

But, seconds later, I was shaken to think, hey, this store must know the purchasing habits of every single customer who bought every slice of meat -- or box of breakfast cereal, or economy-size pack of Monostat, or carton of bottled water. By handing a checkout clerk my membership card at the time of purchase, I was surrendering personal information that can be used later to alert me to recalls (a good thing, thank you), but it can also be used by canny marketing folk to profile me and sell me goods and services not dreamed of when I thought I was merely purchasing far too much toilet tissue.

Imagine the information knocking about in the computer banks of credit card companies everywhere. Imagine the portfolio outlining your exact purchasing habits that is being assembled every time customers blithely surrender an Air Miles card (just because a clerk asks for it at the liquor store). Somewhere, someone has a more accurate profile of you than you have about yourself.

1984? No, try 2008.

...and if you haven't read Omnivore's Ottawa before, check it out -- Ron blogs almost daily on Ottawa's restaurant scene, cooking, and other food topics in Ottawa.

Related: Ottawa Food Guide

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